In our greenest, most Eco-friendly Utopian visions, we likely see a world in which every car is powered by electricity, solar power, and/or batteries.

But, as our guest Katie Singer points out today, our myopic view of these vehicles has a potentially fatal flaw. That idyllic vision is concerned only with the way we fuel our vehicles as they transport us from place to place in our daily lives, and we fail to see the true cost of Electric Vehicles.

Government agencies, manufacturers and marketers often call electric vehicles (EVs) “clean,” “carbon-neutral,” “zero-emitters.” These evaluations focus exclusively on operation of the vehicle. They fail to include the energy used, extraction and refining of ores, hazards to miners and assembly workers, (energy-intensive) robotics needed for design, production and application of chemical solvents, and greenhouse gases and toxic waste emitted during manufacturing of the vehicle. They fail to include the energy used and the gases and toxins emitted during the vehicle’s disposal or recycling.

Our narrow focus on the actual use of these vehicles has created blind spots to the true cost of what is required to create these supposedly eco-friendly electric vehicles. This is exactly why Katie and her colleague Gary Olhelft, PhD are publishing a paper to shine light on these important issues.

(Some of) The True Costs of Electric Vehicle Production:

  • In 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued Globe Metallurgical Inc. (a silicon manufacturer) a permit to release the following contaminants annually: 250 tons of carbon monoxide, 10 tons of formaldehyde, 10 tons of hydrogen chloride, 10 tons of lead, 75,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen, 75,000 tons of particulates, 10 tons of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 40 tons of sulfur dioxide, and seven tons of sulfuric acid mist.
  • While Tesla calls its supercharging stations “free,” scientists from UK’s Natural History Museum report that charging EVs for the 252.5 billion miles that Brits currently drive annually would require a 20% increase in UK-generated electricity.
  • Mining for coltan has led to more murders than any other single event since WWII.
  • In 2019, leading scientists from UK’s Natural History Museum explained that “replacing all UK-based vehicles with electric vehicles…would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate, at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, and 2,362,500 tonnes of copper.” 
  • Electric Vehicle (EV) motors hold copper wiring. A U.S. Geological Survey study found that for every kilogram of copper mined, at least 21 kilograms of waste are generated.
  • According to the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, production of such rare earths generates fluorine, waste gas containing dust, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, acidic waste water and radioactive waste residue. “All the rare-earth enterprises in (China’s) Baotou region produce approximately ten million tons of all varieties of waste water every year,” and most of that waste is “discharged without being effectively treated, which contaminates potable water for daily living, but also contaminates the surrounding water environment and irrigated farmlands.”
  • Want to read the entire paper? CLICK HERE

In This Episode:

  • Understanding the True Cost framework and how we can apply it to more than just Electric Vehicles
  • Embodied Energy – the true cost of the entire lifespan from design through manufacturing, using, and disposal, aka Cradle To Grave
  • Startling facts about conflict minerals, and the incredibly resource-intensive “cradle” phase of EV’s
  • More startling facts about the amount of toxic emissions states and nations are allowing to produce these “carbon neutral” vehicles
  • The paradox of efficiency and consumption
  • The hidden fuel costs in the usage phase of our favorite EV’s
  • Disposing of toxic materials and why we don’t reuse these resource-intensive components
  • The big questions… what should we do? What CAN we do? What is better for the planet: buying a new EV or driving a 1990 Toyota?


Links & Resources from Katie

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